Croydon loses out in the long run with just 21 marathon grants

This year’s London Marathon on Sunday will be celebrating the event having distributed more than £100million to good causes over the last 42 years. Yet Croydon has the worst record of all London boroughs in applying for grants, as STEVEN DOWNES reports

Marathon fund-raiser: Croydon has been left trailing when it comes to accessing charity grants

Just days before the staging of the 43rd London Marathon, back on its regular Blackheath to Westminster course and back to its regular spring-time date, the organisers have flourished the fact that they have managed to award an astonishing £100million to various good causes in and around the capital.

And Inside Croydon has discovered that the borough which has received the fewest number of grants from the London Marathon’s charitable foundation is… Croydon.

In the 42 years since that first London Marathon, just 21 sports and recreational projects in Croydon have successfully submitted bids for funding. Two of those 21 projects were handed their grants only in the latest round of awards, announced last week.

Croydon’s failure to tap into the London Marathon’s rich vein of sports funding reflects the local authority’s failure to organise a professional bid team in Fisher’s Folly to assist the borough’s sports clubs and community associations to access such readily available cash.

And goodness knows, Croydon’s sports venues, parks and open spaces need all the help they can get at the moment – and it certainly won’t be coming from the cash-strapped council.

Hideous: the ugliest logo in the event’s 42-year history

It is estimated that there is at least £1billion available each year to community and volunteer-led arts and sports organisations from a range of sources, including the various funds administering National Lottery cash, charities like the Jack Petchey Foundation, and the London Marathon. Their grants might be used towards the costs of putting a new roof on the bowls clubhouse, to funding coaching for disabled athletes, to building new park equipment to encourage active play.

But many grassroots sports clubs and community groups need advice and support in identifying where that funding can be accessed and in successfully applying for it. Croydon Council has rarely offered such support, certainly not been pro-active in providing it, and in so doing has denied its residents multiple opportunities to up-grade local facilities.

The grant dispersal figures from the London Marathon illustrate the point.

Compared to Croydon’s 21 grants in 42 years…

  • Bexley has had 26 successful applications.
  • Bromley has had 28.
  • Greenwich 99.
  • Kingston 35.
  • Lambeth 81.
  • Lewisham 71.
  • Merton 44.
  • Southwark 96.
  • Sutton 25.

The borough which had had the most successful grant applications to the London Marathon is Tower Hamlets, with 105, worth a total of £4,278,285.

That’s £4.3million over 40 years that has not had to be found out of that borough’s Council Tax, providing sports facilities that residents might otherwise never have had.

The borough which has received the largest amount of grant aid from the London Marathon since 1981 is Newham, with £8,824,049, from 65 applications.

Close finish: Dick Beardsley leads Inge Simonsen at the end of the first, 1981 London Marathon. It would finish in a historic dead heat

Originally, when the marathon’s founders, Chris Brasher and John Disley, set up the not-for-profit status for their money-spinning event, the intention was to share the cash mostly with those local authorities on whose roads the marathon was staged each year. So inner London boroughs like Newham, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth and Southwark initially will have done better than outer London boroughs such as Croydon.

But Merton – with more than double the successful grant applications than Croydon – has never been an inner London borough, nor on the race route.

In any case, as the London Marathon operation has grown over the decades to include other events, such as RideLondon, the annual mass bike ride, the scope for handing out charity cash has spread, too.

Thus the London Marathon Foundation has paid 93 grant applications from organisations in leafy, and relatively wealthy, Surrey, worth a total of £4,942,511.

Over the same period, good causes in Croydon have received a comparatively modest £1,413,459 from the same source.

Brasher and Disley’s original objectives, when they were trying to woo the then Tory leader of the GLC, Sir Horace Cutler, into closing the capital’s roads for one Sunday morning a year, was expressed as, “To show the world that, on occasions, humanity can be united.”

The former Olympic medalists (Brasher won gold in the steeplechase at the 1956 Melbourne Games, after having, in 1954, helped to pace Roger Bannister to the first sub-four-minute mile) also said that they wanted, “To inspire more people to take up sport.” Which they certainly achieved – 40,000 are expected once again to take on the 26 miles and 385 yards through the streets of London this Sunday morning.

They also said that they wanted “to improve the overall standard and status of British distance running”, which, with a couple of notable exceptions, has probably not happened as they will have wanted.

And they also said that they wanted, “To maximise revenue for charities.” In which the event they founded has undoubtedly exceeded what they might have ever imagined.

Marathon man: Chris Brasher. Note the ‘cutting edge’ phone of 1985

Last year, the London Marathon Foundation launched an Active Spaces Fund, from which they have already distributed £2.4million “to improve and create places, spaces and facilities in London to support children, young people and marginalised groups and communities to lead active and healthy lives”.

A total of 81 projects have been funded across 26 London boroughs, including the latest two from Croydon.

Croydon Voluntary Action – notably a council-linked organisation with experience of making funding bids – got £47,000 towards converting an old retail unit (we’ve got plenty of those) into “a new space with a range of activities from table tennis to dance and towards staffing costs of a ‘Community Builder’ to run the activities”.

And an organisation called Reaching Higher has received £15,200 to “deliver free, mentoring-based sports sessions for marginalised young people in Croydon”.

Which is all good and lovely.

According to the London Marathon Foundation, their “monumental milestone” of distributing £100million in total has, since 1981, helped the following:

  • 51 playing fields across the country to be protected from development in perpetuity
  • £7million towards London 2012 Olympic legacy projects
  • More than £4million to play projects and
  • Launching last month the Go! London Fund – the biggest community sports fund in London “aiming to change the lives of young people through physical activity”, and operated in partnership with the Mayor of London and Sport England

Nick Bitel, who was Brasher’s lawyer for many years and is now the CEO of London Marathon Events, said: “Chris and John’s legacy is extraordinary and I don’t think they ever imagined that the event they created back in 1981 would have gone on to inspire so many millions to get active, sowed the seeds for our current portfolio of events and enabled the London Marathon Foundation to make grants totalling £100million, and counting.

“As always, we will be thinking of our founders on Marathon Day next Sunday.”

And perhaps someone in Fisher’s Folly will be thinking about how to invest in support for residents so that Croydon’s sports clubs, residents’ associations and park friends groups can better access London Marathon grants than has ever been the case in the past.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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7 Responses to Croydon loses out in the long run with just 21 marathon grants

  1. Chris Flynn says:

    I think one of the criticism of the current council is that there have been too many highly paid “professional” roles in the office, rather than staff on the ground doing things. But based on what the several such insightful reports I’ve read on Inside Croydon, I can’t help but feel that a role at the council to ensure Croydon applies (and wins!) grants would probably pay for itself pretty quickly.

    • Lewis White says:

      Chris Flynn’s comment above reminds me that when I worked at another London Borough (which incidentally, lists almost top on the list of London Martahon funding successes) , the council’s Recreation team employed sports coaches to go out to the many ball games courts around the borough, to coach the local young people. Definitely “on the ground” staff and activity.

      This was not only “sport” training– it was about involving young people, of all ethnic backgrounds, in playing football or basketball together.

      It could, in council jargon, be called “activity promoting social cohesion among young people from the local estate community” and ” community engagement to lead young people into positive and heathy activity and away from anti-social behaviour”.

      It was clearly also fun, inclusive of different abilities, respectful, challenging, and clearly resulted in an unselfconscious mixing of the young people who took part.

      I would say that it was a success in all aspects.

      I witnessed several such sessions which were held at regular intervals through the year, following the refurbishment of a ballcourt on a housing estate, where I was the project manager for the landscape improvements.

      The coaches were themselves young people– in their 20’s. They were black, white and mixed race, reflecting the ethnic profile of the borough. I did not meet any coaches from other ethnicities, but today there would no doubt be a bigger mix from Asian and Middle Eastern communities.

      It occurred to me that, in their diversity, and dressed in tracksuits showing the council colours and logo, the coaches provided genuine role models, and an evidence that the authority of the council was present, and cared about them.

      It also gave the coaches valuble experience at working with young people and , most importantly for them, paid employment and c.v. enhancing track record.

      All these were great things.

      The very sad thing?.

      Funding was cut, as a result of funding cuts to Parks and Leisure. The oureach sessions were reduced. I have no idea if the progamme exists today.

      I am not in touch with people from that team nowadays, and have no idea whether the London Marathon ever helped to fund the coaching outreach, but it does occur to me , reading Chris’s comments and the Inside Croydon artucle, that if Croydon is not already doing so, a summer football and basketball outreach programme using coaches reaches into the very estates where young people need activity and engagement. Things to do. Good things.

      Would the Marathon be prepared to fund one such programme–ideally a 3 year programme?

      Might there be commercial companies in Croydon who would help out with some funding too? With the Mayor’s business connections, surely that might not be impossible?

  2. John Gallagher says:

    It really is a case of actions speak louder than words. All we seem to get from the Croydon Council are words and excuses. The words rarely relate to actions they have taken by reason they have not taken any.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      For Kerswell to take action would mean a complete u-turn on the cuts she has imposed. By doing that and it succeeding would show how wrong all those decisions were.

      Do you believe that there is a CEO and Part time Mayor who would accept they were wrong, admit this, and reverse the crap decisions?

      Nope we have two parrots in the nest and a Magpie ruling the roost. Not even dear ol Mr Cleese could breathe life into those parrots. Even Frank Abegnale’s antic are put to shame by this lot in Croydon!

  3. James Seabrook says:

    I think Croydon Council’s reputation has been cemented now by funding organisations in general as “avoid at all costs” because somebody who’s bent there will misdirect the money for their own gain. It’s horrible to think that way and extremely unfair on hard working aspiring sports men and women. But I see very few examples of Croydon Council being good custodians in money, or anything, for that matter. Things ain’t like they used to be.

    • Except, in the main, that’s not how grant applications work. Certainly with the Marathon and Lottery, it is the clubs and voluntary bodies who apply and receive the grants, often under strict conditions. The money wouldn’t go to the council.
      That’s not to say there couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be a co-ordinating or advisory role for the council, even with officials, aware of the need for funding for key projects or capital, approaching organisations and encouraging them to bid.
      But there is no reason why the toxic reputation of the council should deter or prejudice third sector applications.

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